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Capitol Police Violently Break Up Jewish-Organized DNC Protest Calling for Gaza Ceasefire

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Image Credit: Ryan Harvey (Right Image)

As protests for a ceasefire in Gaza continue around the United States, the Jewish-led peace organization IfNotNow helped organize Wednesday’s protest at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The protesters held hands to block the entrance to the building and were met with pepper spray and police use of force. “Let’s be clear that police escalated the protest,” says Eva Borgwardt, national spokesperson for IfNotNow. “Our Jewish values and our safety as Jews is extremely, extremely contingent on calling for a ceasefire now,” Borgwardt, who is Jewish, continues. She also comments on Democratic Party leaders’ resistance to and suppression of public calls to rein in Israel’s lethal assault on Gaza, as well as the role of the powerful lobbying group AIPAC in policing public dissent.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden is facing increasing pressure to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. But instead, the White House is rushing more arms to Israel. Bloomberg is reporting the U.S. has quietly sent Israel more laser-guided missiles for Apache gunships, as well as new army vehicles, bunker-buster munitions and more ammunition. On Wednesday, the United States abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote in support of extended humanitarian pauses in Gaza.

Meanwhile, protests are continuing across the United States calling for a ceasefire. In California, police arrested at least 81 protesters after they blocked traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for several hours. In Boston, protesters shut down the Boston University Bridge.

Many of the protests calling for a ceasefire have been organized in part by two Jewish organizations: IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace. On Wednesday, the groups helped organize a protest at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and other lawmakers were gathered. U.S. Capitol police violently moved in on the protesters as they held hands to block the entrance to the DNC. Police described the protest as, quote, “not peaceful” and claimed that protesters pepper-sprayed officers. But images from the protest shows it was officers who deployed pepper spray and that officers used force to remove the demonstrators. This is Eva Borgwardt, national spokesperson for IfNotNow, speaking during the police action.

EVA BORGWARDT: We’re outside the Democratic Party headquarters because this party claims to be on the side of life and peace and equality, and we’re saying that we want them to live up to their values and oppose this horrific war and call for a ceasefire now. And we’re being responded to by the police shoving antiwar activists down the stairs, shoving peaceful protesters back with their bikes. And because our party, our party that 80% of us want a ceasefire, would rather beat up protesters than —

CHUCK MODI: Hold on. To be continued. One second. One second. One second.

AMY GOODMAN: Protest organizers say 90 people were injured outside the DNC. Capitol police say six of their officers sustained injuries. One person was arrested.

One lawmaker who was inside the DNC, California Congressmember Brad Sherman, took to social media to describe the demonstrators as, quote, “pro-terrorist, anti-Israel protestors.” On Thursday, President Biden called into a DNC meeting to express his appreciation for how law enforcement handled the protest.

We’re joined right now by that person you just heard, Eva Borgwardt, national spokesperson for IfNotNow.

Thanks so much for joining us from D.C., Eva. If you can start off by calling — by explaining why you focused on the DNC? And then describe what happened and respond to Congressmember Sherman saying you are pro-terrorist.

EVA BORGWARDT: Well, Amy, thank you so much for having me.

And, yes, the focus on the DNC was because, as we know, the majority of Americans, and certainly the majority of Democrats, want a ceasefire. And our lawmakers are not listening to the thousands of calls and constituent meetings that we’ve been trying — ways that we’ve been trying to reach them over the past month. And so, this was, like many protests across the country, an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. The goal was to assemble peacefully, call attention to the urgent situation in Gaza and ask for Democratic leadership to act and call for a ceasefire now, a release of the hostages, a hostage exchange and a deescalation and to address the root causes of this violence — decades of occupation, apartheid and siege.

And unfortunately, police chose to escalate. And with no verbal warnings or communication with police liaisons who were trying to speak with them, they started shoving protesters down the stairs and shoving protesters back with their bicycles and trampling on the 11,000 tea lights that protesters had brought to represent the Palestinians who have already been killed in Gaza.

And as you mentioned, Democratic lawmakers, including Congressman Brad Sherman, have said that these protesters are pro-Hamas. Speaker Mike Johnson said that this was an antisemitic protest, which is, frankly, absurd, because — for many reasons, but primarily so many of the protesters are not only Jews, but who have loved ones who were either murdered by Hamas on October 7th or Jews and Palestinians who have loved ones either in Gaza or who know people in Gaza who have lost dozens of members of their families over the past month. And so, to say that these, again, many of them personally grieving protesters are pro-terrorist is absurd. And let’s be clear that police escalated this protest.

AMY GOODMAN: Rather than characterize what Congressmember Brad Sherman said, as I did at the beginning, let’s hear what he said on CNN Wednesday night.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN: There were over 200,000 pro-Israel demonstrators, with a permit, entirely peaceful. And here you have a demonstration less than one-thousandth as large that’s also getting publicity. And it’s getting publicity because of their willingness to attack police, as they did with pepper spray, is a force multiplier.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he’s contrasting the protest you had in front of the DNC with the pro-Israel march that took place a few days ago. Your response to what he’s saying? Also, I know a number of reporters outside were scratching their heads when he talked about pro-terrorist protesters.

EVA BORGWARDT: Yes. Thanks, Amy. And, yes, his words do speak for themselves. I mean, first of all, let’s also be clear that there have been hundreds of thousands of nonviolent — hundreds of thousands of peace activists — Palestinian, Jewish, multiracial, multifaith — rising up across the U.S., and millions around the world. And so, to contrast Wednesday night’s demonstration only with the Tuesday demonstration, the pro-Israel march at the Capitol, is telling, because it’s impossible for politicians like Brad Sherman, who are refusing to call for a ceasefire, to acknowledge the massive peaceful uprising that is happening around the world in support of the people of Gaza because the public, the international community, sees Palestinian lives and Israeli lives as equal.

AMY GOODMAN: Eva, on Thursday, yesterday, Vermont’s sole Congressmember Becca Balint became the first Jewish congressmember to call for a ceasefire. That’s very interesting because one of the senators of Vermont, Bernie Sanders, has not called for a ceasefire. In fact, IfNotNow protesters have been arrested in his office requesting that he call for a ceasefire. Your response to both Balint and Sanders?

EVA BORGWARDT: Yes, well, and I was also at that protest at Senator Sanders’ office earlier this month. And I think, in particular, for Jewish lawmakers, as a Jewish movement, as the Jewish movements that have been protesting for ceasefire, we are doing this for safety and freedom for Palestinians who are under siege, and also because we are terrified for our loved ones in Israel and in the entire region if this escalates into a broader regional war. And our disappointment in Senator Sanders so far refraining from calling for a ceasefire is that he has made his legacy as an antiwar champion. And so, we are extremely grateful to Congresswoman Balint for speaking out from a Jewish perspective for ceasefire, because we feel that our Jewish values and our safety as Jews is extremely, extremely contingent on ending this horrific violence and calling for a ceasefire now.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Eva, you were an organizer for President Biden during his 2020 campaign. If you can talk about your response to his position now, and what this means, and what you feel Biden supporters then are feeling today?

EVA BORGWARDT: Yes. So, like you mentioned, I worked for President Biden in Arizona in the 2020 election. Let’s be clear: I am terrified of Donald Trump and the white supremacist, antisemitic movement that’s behind him. And I feel immense stake in the Democratic Party winning in November 2024. And frankly, again, I am deeply terrified and angry at Democratic leadership for ignoring the calls from the majority of their base for a ceasefire, a hostage exchange and a deescalation, and creating a lack of faith in the Democratic Party that I am very concerned will hurt Democrats’ chances in November.

And I encourage them, with the fullest, fullest emphasis possible, to reverse course now. We have seen so far that for some Democrats, 1,400 Israeli deaths and over 4,000 Palestinian deaths were enough. Now, for other Democrats, 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza killed are not enough for them to call for ceasefire, which is how we know this horrific violence will end and move toward a political solution in the region. And so, we are waiting to see how many Palestinian lives our Democratic politicians need in order to call for ceasefire. And every day, every hour that they wait has, I fear, implications for what will happen in November.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask about the powerful lobby group AIPAC — that’s the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — stepping up its support for primary challengers to lawmakers who voice support for a ceasefire. Slate magazine reports AIPAC is expected to spend somewhere around $100 million in Democratic primaries backing opponents of House progressives, like the Squad. Your response?

EVA BORGWARDT: Yes. So, IfNotNow is currently — prior to October 7th, IfNotNow’s main focus was around the campaign around AIPAC and making sure that the Jewish public, in particular, and the American public understand that these days AIPAC is — those $100 million and the money that AIPAC is spending in these elections is primarily from far-right billionaires and that AIPAC is functioning essentially as a way for these Republican billionaires to interfere in Democratic primaries.

And in particular around escalating their spending or threats of spending against those calling for ceasefire, AIPAC has always been determined to prevent any kind of conditionality on U.S. support for Israel, any human rights conditions consistent with U.S. law and any daylight between the U.S. and Israel. And now in attempting to punish any of the lawmakers who are taking a moral and pragmatic stand in calling for ceasefire, they are demonstrating that even the genocidal — and let’s call it genocidal, because it is — rhetoric from — as you have on this show many times, rhetoric from the Israeli leaders in the government right now is not enough to warrant conditionality in U.S. support. And frankly, I am also extremely terrified about the implications of punishing politicians for not supporting, again, this assault on — this massacre in Gaza, because if we say — if AIPAC is determined to tell the American public that supporting an unfolding genocide — that speaking out to oppose an unfolding genocide is beyond the pale in the realm of political acceptability, what is going to become of us, and what is going to happen to this world?

AMY GOODMAN: Eva Borgwardt, I want to thank you so much for being with us, national spokesperson for IfNotNow, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s protest at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Coming up, independent journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous on the latest in Gaza and the West Bank, and his new documentary on the Cop City protests in Atlanta. Stay with us.

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